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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Shaharyar Khan, 2016 May 31.
Oral history with Shaharyar Khan, 2016 May 31.
Khan, Shaharyar, 1934, Hasan, Fakhra, and Bakshi, Zara
Author (no Collectors):
Khan, Shaharyar, 1934, Hasan, Fakhra, Hasan, Fakhra, and Bakshi, Zara
Shahryar Khan was born on 29th March 1934 into the Ruling Family of the Princely State of Bhopal. Mr Khan's father, Sarwar Ali Khan, was the Nawab of Korwai State. His mother, Abida Sultaan, was an Heir Apparent to the State of Bhopal until her migration to Pakistan in 1950. In Bhopal, 90 per cent of the population was Hindu and 10 per cent were Muslims and other faiths. It was considered a haven of peace for people of all faiths and retained its peaceful status during the troublesome times of Partition riots and massacre in India.Mr Khan's maternal grandfather, the last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan was an urbane, sporting, and fearless personality. He was the first scion of Bhopal's ruling family to receive a university education, and twice the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. Of the six hundred princes in India at the time, he was one of the most educated and articulate ones at the upper echelons of the Viceroy's council. "He had very good relations with the Congress Party. He had very good relations with Jinnah," Mr Khan says.His grandmother, Shahzadi Memoona Sultaan was a direct descendant of Ahmad Shah Abdali, and the Afghan King Shah Shuja. "She had settled with her clan and brought her culture to Bhopal. She would speak in Persian with her clan, and converse in Urdu with us. She was fluent in French. She would play tennis and was adept at playing the piano and the violin. She was a well-accomplished woman."His mother, was the eldest of three daughters of his grandfather, and for 25 years, Heir Apparent to the State of Bhopal, being the eldest daughter. "She was the favorite of her grandmother. It was she who suggested that my mother be declared the Heir Apparent. The British were a bit cagey on this because my grandmother, was relatively a young woman and they anticipated that she could produce a son. My great grandmother insisted, and the British ultimately bent to her wishes and in 1928, she was declared the Heir Apparent, and remained so until she left Bhopal in 1949 for Pakistan," Mr Khan says.His mother had two younger sisters, Sajida Sultaan, married to the Nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan, the famous Indian cricketer, and Rabia Sultaan married to Agha Nadir Mirza from the Bhopal Royal Family. Both of her sisters continued with their lives in India after Partition.Mr Khan's parents separated a year or two after his birth, and he was raised under the sole supervision of his mother, two English governesses and a governor. "Married life was not my mother's cup of tea. She was a very aggressive and outgoing person. She in fact had said to him to marry another woman. It was an amicable parting, and they remained friends for life. He really didn't have a role in my upbringing or made any decisions about my life. It was my mother who would make all the major decisions."Mr Khan was raised at the Noor-us-Sabah [Royal Palace in Bhopal] before Partition. Sharing early memories of his upbringing in Bhopal, Mr Khan says that it had about 54 rooms with 200 people living in it from family members to workers and security staff. "We mainly used to dwell in the main living room downstairs. My mother's study room was downstairs where she used to work. Next to it was the room where we were taught. Next to that was the dining room and next to that was a large forward drawing room. All around the house there was a lovely verandah with marbled floors where we used to play cricket." He remembers. Wheat and cotton were grown on the agricultural lands that were tilled by tenant farmers. The harvest was distributed amongst the farmers and sold in the market but never stored, Mr Khan says. Street salesmen were forbidden to roam around the palace compound by the security staff.The dress code for Bhopal was simplistic for both men and women. "We were strictly instructed from a very early age not to dress gaudily. All of our clothes were mostly made of cotton, and sometimes khadi," he says.Sharing his thoughts on the foods of Bhopal, Mr Khan recounts Rezala [chicken cooked with white gravy in oil] and Bhata [sweet dish made out of a cow's milk that had just given birth to a calf] to be his favorite delicacies.The rules of purdah were quite flexible in the State, Mr Khan remembers. "The women of Bhopal were much more advanced intellectually than their sisters elsewhere in India. They were active in sports like hockey, tennis and squash, and some of them were very good chess and bridge players. My mother was an All India Squash Champion," he says.Mr. Khan's early education started from home. By the age of four, his mother had adopted two boys, Sultan Mal, from a Hindu family, and Syed Farooq Ali, from a Muslim family to accompany in the spiritual and intellectual growth of her only son. In the morning, together they would take lessons in Urdu, Quran and Islamiyat with a Wahhabi scholar, followed by lessons in English, mathematics, geography, history, science, calligraphy and the arts with an English governess. The afternoons and evenings were reserved for sports, learning crafts and musical instruments."We had the same tutors, and the same governesses. We were brought up together and went to the same schools until my departure to England," he says. Both Sultan and Farooq became avid hockey and cricket players. Sharing two of his fondest memories from childhood, Mr Khan says that first was when he obtained his very first present, a 410 rifle, and the second was shooting his very first tiger at the age of nine years. "I severely regret it now but at that time it was culture, rite of passage that you became a man if you shot a tiger and you had to be part of that culture. I couldn't do that now."In January 1945, Mr. Khan was enrolled as boarding student at the Royal Indian Military College in Dehradun. "My mother wanted to toughen me up and decided to send me to a military school." He remembers that the first three years of schooling at Dehradun were a huge influence on him. "You learned to live with people from Bengal, Madras and Punjab and know their customs and ways of life. The Sikh boys in our dormitory, had to get up half an hour earlier than the rest of us, in order to shampoo and wash their hair and tie it all up. We would observe all the Hindu and Sikh festivals at the gurudwara and the temple just as they would observe Ramzan, Eid and Eid-ul-Azha with us. In short, different cultures were living with each other. There wasn't any hatred or anything like that amongst us."Mr Khan's schooling future at Dehradun became uncertain due to the surge in Partition-related riots across India. "Before that we had no interest in it. We would read highlights of it in the Civil and Military Gazette at school, and skip to the sports page for scores. We weren't very politically active at the time but I was definitely elated at the thought of Muslims having their own country," he remembers. "Then we started hearing news of trains arriving at Bhopal with mutilated bodies since it was one of the main railway junctions in India at the time."In June 1947, his mother withdrew him from RIMC upon the Principal Mr Prichard's advice. Mr Khan resumed his studies at the Daly College in Indore until the summer of 1948. Sultan, his elder foster brother stayed behind in Dehradun and joined the Indian army, while the younger foster brother Farooq Ali joined Mr Khan at the Daly College in Indore. "During this time, my mother had started mulling on migrating to Pakistan but kept those thoughts to herself, and some of her closest friends," he says.Sharing the first memory of Partition significant to Mr Khan, he shares: "On 30th of January 1948, we were at school [Daly College], playing cricket and hockey and suddenly the news came that Mahatma Gandhi has been assassinated. This was a huge shock. Everyone was stunned, even people like us who were carefree. Before that there were no tensions between Hindus and Muslims. There were only 12 to 13 Muslim boys in college. They hadn't announced the name of the assassin for six hours. During those six hours, there was always a possibility that a Muslim might have done it. If that had happened, then all hell would have broken loose against any Muslim. My mother got into a station wagon and drove straight hundred miles to Indore to the college. She told the principal B.G. Miller that she's going to take all the Muslim boys and the principal said he couldn't let them go without their parents' permission. To which she replied if something happened to them then he would be responsible for not letting them come with her back to the safety of Bhopal. He eventually allowed her to take us all. We were all packed into the station wagon like sardines and taken off to Bhopal. We drove for four hours and by then it was known that a rightwing Hindu had assassinated Gandhi. In a sense we were relieved but it was a very bad time for us."In the summer of 1948, Mr Khan's mother decided to migrate and settle in Pakistan after putting her son at a boarding school in England. They set sail for England from Bhopal on the ss Asturius via Bombay and Liverpool.He was boarded at the Oundle Public School while his mother waited to obtain a visa to Pakistan in England. "It was a bit of wrench because I was quite happy in my life at Bhopal. I'd had a fairly good time studying at Dehradun and Indore but going to England was a cultural shock to me. Studying the subjects was not the problem. The problem was studying with English boys and their culture. For example, to find a quiet spot to say your prayers was not easy because they would make fun of you. Another oddity was that the boys would undress in front of each other in a room full of people, and their hygiene habits were repugnant. On the other hand, I learnt a lot on how different cultures performed as a result of the effects of post-World War crises which drove them to conserve and give up on pleasures. My great bridge to culture was spanned ultimately through sports. I was a good sportsman. In my first year at school at the age of 14 years, I was selected to play cricket for the school and became a hero," he says.In the meantime, Mr Khan's mother was unable to get the visa to Pakistan after Jinnah's unexpected demise. In 1949, she returned to Bhopal after learning that her father was considering the Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan's offer for help in running the country in Jinnah's absence. "He had been given the option to become the Defense Minister or Governor of East Pakistan," Mr Khan says.In 1950, she returned to England to meet with Mr Khan and was successful in getting a visa to Pakistan on her British Indian passport with timely help of Liaquat Ali Khan whom she'd met at the consulate as a matter of coincidence, he remembers. "After dropping me off at Naples, Italy by road, she took the plane to Karachi via Cairo. In August 1950, she was the first leading lady from the senior Muslim states to have migrated to Pakistan. It's only my mother from our family who had come and sacrificed everything that she had in Bhopal. She had the biggest claim for refugee compensation in Pakistan amounting up to Rs. 84 lacs."Mr Khan spent four years studying at England, completing his A Levels in 1952. Sharing his thoughts on discussions on Partition in the UK, he says: "There wasn't much discussion on the rights and wrongs of Partition. The feeling in England was that India had become an economic burden on the British people, especially after the war. The sooner that burden was released, the better. The fact that Pakistan was not on the map until 1947, tended to confuse people. They all thought we were Indians, and we would aggressively say I'm a Pakistani, and they'd say: where is that? Later on when Pakistan government became part of the pacts against communist economies, is when it came under the British radar, as an ally. The common person had no interest in it. I was too young to take a position on the horrifying riots in Punjab and Bengal since the only thing I knew was that a lot of unnecessary slaughter took place while people were crossing the borders."According to the 1950 Registration of Land Claims Act [for Refugees from India] introduced by Ayub Khan, refugees were not allowed compensation of more than Rs. 3 lacs, Mr Khan Shares. "Only the agreed areas of East Punjab and Junagarh were allowed full compensation. The people that my mother knew were getting massive amounts of money and mansions to occupy. No one had favored us."In August 1951, Mr Khan made his first trip to Pakistan to be with his mother for the summer break.From her savings, she'd built a house for herself and her son in Malir, Karachi. "She did it without anyone's help. It was poor compensation by Pakistan government to a woman who had sacrificed so much for the sake of Jinnah, for the sake of this country. When one makes these sacrifices, one doesn't look for profits and that is how she was. But, it hurts." In Karachi, they had no electricity and basic electrical appliances for eight years. "We used to sleep out in the open with mosquito nets, in the cool breeze," Mr Khan remembers.After completing his A Levels from Oundle, Mr Khan went on to Cambridge where he studied Law. He also became fluent in Spanish and French with deep appreciation for their poetry and literature. He graduated in 1956 and returned to Karachi for a longer period. After a brief stint at Burma Shell, Mr Khan took the exam for Central Superior Services and obtained fourth position across Pakistan. In 1957, he joined the Foreign Service and stayed with them until his retirement in 1994.From 1994 to 1996, he was in Rwanda as special representative to the UN Secretary General overseeing peacekeeping operations. "It was a nightmarish experience, as Rwanda was being subjected to genocide. A million people were killed in three months." Mr Khan has authored a book called the Shallow Graves of Rwanda on his experiences on what Rwanda went through.In 1999, Mr Khan was appointed the Pakistan ambassador to France and returned to Karachi before completing his two year tenure to look after his ailing mother, who passed away in 2002.In 2003, Mr Khan moved to Lahore after his first appointment as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. "I'd temporarily settled in Lahore then, and I really liked it. I bought a house here in 2006, and eventually settled here with my family."Mr Khan also teaches Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Read more about his life and career in Foreign Services here: [].He was married to his wife in 1958. He'd met her in England. She was a student at Queens College. "She comes from a distinguished Urdu speaking migrant family from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh and Allahabad." The marriage took place in Karachi. They have three sons and a daughter.Mr Khan is currently in his second stint as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board and lives with his family in Lahore. He visits his mother's home and resting place in Karachi from time to time. Both of his foster brothers, Sultan and Farooq have passed away. "Whenever I'd go to Bhopal, I'd meet Sultan. He served in the army most of his life and retired as a colonel. He passed away in 2014. I remained friends with Farooq all my life. He went on to become a chartered accountant and died in 2006."He enjoys visiting places of worship whenever in India or other parts of the world. "Be it the Muslim places of worship in Delhi and Agra, or the mosques and churches in Rome, Paris, England, Tunis, Jordan and Istanbul, I'm more interested in the history of these places of worship than the act of worship itself."Sharing his final thoughts on Partition, Mr Khan says: "The creation of Pakistan was inevitable but I don't think the division of Punjab and Bengal were inevitable. I believe these divisions were the source of a huge humanitarian disaster, which could have been avoided. In that sense both our Indian and Pakistani leaders let us down. I look back on Partition partly as a dream fulfilled for Muslims and partly as an avoidable horror that followed Partition. I feel the British must be held responsible for the role they played in leaving us with unresolved remains of their glory years: the water works, the railways, states and the boundaries."
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2 video files
Publication Info:
Lahore (Pakistan)
Lahore (Pakistan), May 31, 2016
Filmed interviews